Ventura County Medical Examiner's & Sheriff’s Office Team with Othram to Identify 2002 John Doe

After 22 years, the remains of a man discovered in Ventura, California have been identified as William Russell Howard, Jr., born July 20, 1943.

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Published March 27, 2024 by Michael Vogen
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In February 2002, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in Ventura, California. The individual was found deceased near a railroad overcrossing. Investigators determined that the remains were that of a white male, who was estimated to between fifty and seventy years old at his time of death. The man was 5’10” tall and he weighed 130 pounds. He had gray hair as well as a gray moustache and beard. The John Doe was wearing tan "Rip Curl" brand pants with pockets, sweatpants, a gray sweatshirt, and a green shirt with the words "San Antonio, Texas" printed on it. Investigators estimated that one week had passed between the man’s death and the time that his remains were found.

In 2011, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP8556. Despite efforts to identify the man, no leads yielded a match and the man’s identity remained a mystery. He became known as Ventura County John Doe.

In 2023, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office and Ventura County Sheriff's Office once again teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help identify the man. Previously, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s and Sheriff’s Office worked with Othram on the identification of three other individuals and this case represents the thirty-first publicly announced case solve in the state of California using technology developed by Othram.

Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas where Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence, and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used this profile to conduct extensive genetic genealogy research, ultimately providing new investigative leads to law enforcement. Using this new information, a follow-up investigation was conducted, leading to the positive identification of the man as William Russell Howard, Jr., who was born July 20, 1943. Originally from Minnesota, William died from natural causes. No other information about William is available at this time.

Funding for the advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy used in this case was provided by NamUs, a national clearinghouse that assists the criminal justice community with the investigation and resolution of missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases across the United States and its territories. NamUs is funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and is managed through a contract with Research Triangle Institute International. We are grateful for the support of RTI, NamUs, and the NIJ.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

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About Othram Inc.

Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit to learn how we can help you with your case. With anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.